The Firm of Johnson, Thomas and Thomas and others v Thomas Smith and T G & V Properties Limited and Clyde Gateway Developments Limited, 28 July 2016 – Servitude right of parking?

This is a Sheriff court case considering the existence of a servitude right of parking.

Johnson, Thomson and Thomson owned an area of land in Rutherglen (part of the Cuningar Loop) which was used as a residential site for showmans’ caravans. They sought declarator that they had a servitude right of parking over a narrow strip of vacant ground owned by T G & V Properties Limited. JT&T argued that the right had been created by prescription as they and their tenants had parked vehicles on the strip openly, peaceably and without judicial interruption, for over 20 years.

The case raised the following preliminary questions for the court:

  1. whether Scots law recognises a “free-standing” servitude right of vehicular parking (i.e. an independent right which is not merely ancillary/secondary to a primary right of vehicular access);
  2. whether such a right (which could be unlimited as to the number and type of vehicles to be parked there, and potentially covering the whole of the burdened property at all times) is repugnant[1] with ownership of the servient tenement; and

Free standing right of parking?

After considering the authorities, the sheriff found that Scots law does recognise a free-standing servitude of parking. Although servitudes created by prescription[2] require to be “known to the law” (there is some times said to be a “fixed list” of servitudes), that requirement has some flexibility to deal with changing circumstances and modern conditions. As such, servitudes rights can be acceptable where they are “similar in nature” to existing known servitudes. The sheriff considered Moncrieff v Jamieson[3], in which it was found that a servitude right of vehicular parking could exist as ancillary to a servitude of access. The sheriff noted that, although it was not the point the case decided, the judgements had indicated in passing that a free-standing right of parking could exist and the sheriff could think of no compelling reason why a right of parking should be confined to an ancillary status:

“In summary, while I acknowledge that Moncrieff does not represent a strictly binding judicial recognition of the existence of a free-standing servitude right, in my judgment the debate on this narrow issue is ended for all practical purposes by the overwhelming current of eminent obiter dicta in that case. It is futile to stand Canute-like against it. From Moncrieff, it is but a short skip in logic to conclude, by analogy with the ancillary right recognised in that case, that an independent free-standing servitude right is, at least, similar in nature thereto.”

Repugnant with ownership?

T G & V and the other defenders argued that the alleged servitude was repugnant with their ownership of the servient land because the exercise of the right could result in the entire area of the servient tenement being covered by vehicles, every day and all day, thus excluding them from any practical or realistic enjoyment or use of their land. However, the sheriff took the view that the repugnancy issue was not engaged in this case and referred to the judgements in Moncrieff which pointed out that many well known servitudes involve structures being erected or objects being placed on the servient land. The sheriff pointed to Lord Stott’s test in Moncrieff which asks whether the servient owner retains “possession and control” of the servient land”:

“For my own part, I see much force in Lord Scott’s reasoned articulation of the repugnancy principle. A servitude right of parking may well substantially restrict the rights of the owner of the servient tenement and the uses to which, from time to time, he can put the surface of the land, but his rights as proprietor are not sterilised. He can build over the servient tenement, he can build under it, he can advertise on hoardings around it, or otherwise utilise the boundary walls. Indeed, he can park on it himself, or use it for any other purpose, provided he does not interfere to any material extent with the reasonable exercise of the servitude right by the dominant proprietor. The servient proprietor may not have physical occupation of the surface of the land when the servitude right is being exercised, but he remains the owner of the land, he remains in control of it, he remains in (legal) possession of it, and he is at liberty to exploit its residual uses.”

The full judgement is available from Scottish Courts here:

https://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/search-judgments/judgment?id=2bea1aa7-8980-69d2-b500-ff0000d74aa7

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[1] i.e. so restrictive that the value of ownership would be lost. Servitudes which are repugnant with ownership are not permitted in terms of s76(2) of the Title Conditions (Scotland) Act 2003.

[2] Servitude rights constituted by express written grant no longer require to be of a known type as a result of section 76(1) of the Title Conditions (Scotland) Act 2003.

[3]Moncrieff v Jamieson 2008 SC (HL) 1.